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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 360

Mr ASHLEY-BROWN (MITCHELL, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I wish to direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. Did he note the claim of Mr Alan Hayes, a welfare officer of the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association, on the "This Day Tonight' program last night that sheltered workshops employees receiving the invalid pension plus supplementary assistance totalling $24 a week have their benefits reduced by $1 for each $1 earned over $24 weekly? As this is a more savage means test than is generally applied to pensioners, can the Minister state why this practice has been adopted, especially as it is a clear disincentive to physical and mental selfimprovement?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - In reply to the honourable member, I did see the segment on This Day Tonight' to which he has referred. The matter which was raised by the gentleman mentioned is one about which I have had considerable concern going back for many years. Before replying to the points raised perhaps I ought to point out that the practices which are being applied are ones which we inherited and which have been used for the past 23 years up to the last election by a succession of conservative governments. We are unhappy about such practices and especially the disincentives and the discrimination which are inherent in them. We want to do something about removing them.

I also point out - and this is not without significance - that last night in this House in the course of the debate on the Social Services Bill honourable members who had been members of previous conservative governments until the last election and who are now in the Opposition were particularly vocal in their objections that this Government was being too generous in the provision of social security benefits. This probably explains why previous governments were prepared to persevere with this sort of defective arrangement. I do not believe that the answer to this problem rests merely with tinkering the present system of pensions as it applies to these people working in sheltered workshops. This matter will be dealt with as soon as the national commission on social welfare is established and this should be announced quite soon. I regret the delays but they have occurred because some of the top line people we have approached - and we want only the best quality people to serve on this national commission - have had some difficulties in rearranging their work loads and personal commitments. We hope to make an announcement on this shortly. That commission will be given many tasks, one of which will be to assess the problems of handicapped people in the community in conjunction, of course, with such documents as the Senate report and the Griffith report, and to come down with firm recommendations to help these people. I believe that possibly an approach such as the West German one, where a guaranteed wage is provided for disabled people, would be a more appropriate approach to the problems of disabled people working in sheltered workshops than treating them as pensioners.

There is one final point I want to clear up. There was a tendency in the television segment last night to convey - I am sure it was unintentional - a misapprehension as to how the system of pensions did in fact operate. The total pension income does not reduce $1 for each $1 earned above $24. In fact an invalid pensioner receives $20 a week and is able to earn another $20 free income without affecting his pension level and thereafter the pension rate is reduced SOc in the $1 on the tapered means test basis. What is reduced $1 for $1 is the supplementary or. rent assistance of $4. If we were merely to, tinker with the present system, eliminate this means testing and provide $44 supplementary, assistance for all people paying rent or board the cost to the taxpayers would be $50m. If we were to provide it for all pensioners without any reference to whether they paid board or rent the cost would be $150m. I do not believe this is the approach at all. I regret the present anomalies. They have been with us for over 20 years. We hope to move towards a speedy rectification of them but we do not want to rush into this because our solution to the problem, we trust, will be a constructive and helpful one and will avoid these sorts of anomalies and discriminations in the future.

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